Working on More Them, Less Me

Our classroom library before the kids arrived last year. 

Many years ago (it pains me too much to count how many) a fabulous reading teacher friend of mine gently suggested that I should allow the students to set up our classroom library. I taught fourth graders at the time and I couldn’t imagine how that would work. My friend, being far wiser than I, kept gently pushing me about it and talking with me about how it could be done. I still couldn’t make the leap.

Around that same time I was one of several teachers working with an intern (student teacher) in the spring. The three of us were, therefore, out of our classrooms for four weeks. During that time we always took on various tasks around the school, sometimes working with students, sometimes accomplishing other jobs. In this instance, we were tasked with reorganizing our book room. My reading teacher friend and a colleague had secured funding over several years and greatly expanded the resources available to us. We were fairly bursting at the seams and needed to take stock.

The two other teachers and I spent quite a while looking over all we had in the book room, debating how best to organize it for teachers to find what they need, and making it happen. By the end of the process I realized I would be a far more effective user of the book room because I had such a deep knowledge of what was there.

That was a real smack in the head. Needless to say, the next fall I had my students set up our classroom library. (I may be slow but I can learn.)

Not only did this process involve some really wonderful, thoughtful conversations about books, but it also meant my students had touched and looked at a significant portion of our library in the first weeks. They had a far better idea of what all was available to them and were excited to read a wider range of books. It was wonderful.

In my years in K and 1st I didn’t do this. Instead, I organized the library and then the students looked at each basket of books and gave it its label. That’s what I did last year in 3rd as well. This year I’m going back to my belief and having the students set up the library. I’ve got baskets of books ready for them to pick from for independent reading in the first few days. Each basket is full of a wide collection of books. After a few days of reading and exploring the books we’ll start talking.

We’ll talk about what books or kinds of books we like to read.
We’ll talk about how we find books we want to read when we go to the school library.
We’ll talk about the kinds of baskets they would like to find in our classroom library.
We’ll talk about what makes books similar.
We’ll talk about how to figure out what kind of book one is holding if one hasn’t actually read it.

Those conversations will (hopefully) help us as we begin sorting books in ways that make sense to us. We’ll see how it goes.

If you have any advice or suggestions about this, I’d love to hear them because it’s been a long time since I’ve done this with a class!

2 replies on “Working on More Them, Less Me”

  1. Charlene says:

    I am so happy to hear your students will get this experience! I think this builds so much excitement, anticipation, engagement, and ownership. Just the experience of browsing and reading before one ever sorts a book into a group grows a reader. Adjustments I made after I realized it was taking weeks to organize the library… I didn’t put out all the books at the beginning or I didn’t feel all the books had to be sorted by students. Also, let the readers design the basket labels. I hope to get into your classroom sometime soon to see the result!

    I also remember all the good sorting you and other teachers did for us in the bookroom that year! the categories helped when we used those books for writing!

    • jenorr says:

      I’d been debating how we would manage to sort the absurd number of books we have so it’s good to hear that you didn’t feel the kids had to sort all of them. It’s freeing. Right now I’ve still got six boxes of books I haven’t opened and already have a good dozen tubs with books ready to be explored and sorted.

      My kids have always done the basket labels. Last year we had one basket labeled “Imprtnt Peple”. It pained me all year. Both because of the spelling and because I would have named it Biography.

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